Personalities | Dmitri Shostakovich | Modern Era | Opera
Born in tsarist Russia, Shostakovich spent his entire career under the critical and often hectoring gaze of the Soviet regime, yet he still managed to produce some of his nation’s most powerful and engaging twentieth-century music.
Studying composition at the Petrograd Conservatory from 1919 to 1925, he presented Symphony No. 1 as his graduation piece, a work that brought him international attention. His first complete opera was The Nose, completed in 1928. An excellent example of Russian post-revolutionary avant-garde theatre, it satirized the tsarist rule of Nicholas I. Following its 1930 premiere, the Soviet regime began to formulate its manifesto for ‘Socialist Realism’ and The Nose was duly abandoned after only 16 performances. It was rediscovered by the conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and underwent a revival in 1974.
Arguably the greatest achievement of Shostakovich’s career was Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (composed in 1930–32 and premiered in 1934), after a novel by Leskov. A masterpiece that enjoyed great success overseas, its dissonant compositional style was blasted in the Soviet newspaper Pravda after Stalin attended a performance in January 1936. The work was revived in Moscow 1963, having being toned-down, as Katerina Ismailova. Outside Russia, the original version has now replaced the revised version.
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